Ministerial Advisers

Ceisteanna (174)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

174. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a schedule of advisers and special advisers appointed and-or recruited by him since his appointment will be provided; the roles and responsibilities attributed to each; and the salary for each appointee in tabular form. [27051/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Enterprise)

The persons appointment by me in my Department as Special Advisers are detailed in the following table.

It should be noted that all appointments are subject to formal Government approval and relevant contracts will be laid before the Oireachtas in due course. All appointments will be made in line with the Public Service Management Act, 1997.

Name

Position

Salary

Date of Commencement

Sarah O’Neill

Special Advisor to An Tánaiste

Principal Officer (standard)

27th July 2020

Matthew Lynch

Special Advisor to An Tánaiste

Principal Officer (standard)

14th September 2020

Employment Rights

Ceisteanna (175)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

175. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 22 September 2020, the information being sought in the case from the employer; if it is accepted that there is no change of employer in this instance; if the employer requires the two employees in question to move to another site as per prior agreement with his Department at the time of application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27156/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Enterprise)

All applications for employment permits are processed in line with the Employment Permits Acts and associated Regulations which lay down in legislation the criteria in relation to the application, grant and refusal of an employment permit.  All employment permits are employer and location specific. 

On 6th November 2019, the employer e-mailed my officials querying if different restaurants [owned by different companies] could be brought under the one "umbrella" to allow for movement of staff between the different employers.  On 11th November 2019, my officials responded requesting further information from the employer on their proposal in order to be in a position to answer the query, but no response has been forthcoming as of yet.  My officials have sent a further request for this additional information.

As stated previously, where an employer requires an employee to work in more than one location then this should be notified to the Department at the time of application.  Where there is a change of location proposed after a permit has issued the Department must be contacted and notified in advance of any move to determine if a new employment permit is required.  Should the employer wish to contact my officials with regard to this, they will be happy to assist.

Finally, it is not possible for an employment permit holder to change employer without a new employment permit issuing.

IDA Ireland

Ceisteanna (176)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

176. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of employees in IDA supported businesses by county in tabular form in each of the years 2016 to 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27224/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Enterprise)

As Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment my focus is to lead our country through the economic crisis that has been caused by the pandemic to get our businesses open and our people back to work.

By the end of 2019, total employment in the IDA's client companies stood at over 245,000. Every region in Ireland has seen foreign direct investment-driven employment gains with over 138,000 people employed across 724 IDA client companies located outside of Dublin. 57% of all IDA client-supported jobs, in fact, are now located outside the capital.

Notwithstanding the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am confident that Ireland will remain attractive in the long-term to international investors. Our traditional strengths – including our talented workforce and pro-enterprise policy environment – remain very much intact and valued by overseas firms. I look forward to working, together with the IDA, to increase FDI here in the years ahead.

The following table outlines the total number of jobs in IDA Ireland client companies by county from 2016 to 2019. The employment figures for 2020 will not be available until publication of my Department's Annual Employment Survey in the first quarter of 2021.

County

2016

2017

2018

2019

Carlow

               802

               875

           1,149

             1,257

Cavan

           1,203

           1,155

           1,100

             1,153

Clare

           6,746

             7,006

           6,924

             7,146

Cork

         35,381

         36,850

         39,237

           40,671

Donegal

           3,048

           3,400

           3,506

             3,776

Dublin

         83,519

         90,748

         97,967

         106,466

Galway

         17,072

         18,531

         20,218

           21,071

Kerry

           2,097

           2,187

           2,257

             2,176

Kildare

           9,821

           8,506

           8,901

             8,872

Kilkenny

               762

               717

               720

                 655

Laois

               115

               120

               111

                 121

Leitrim

               803

               884

                 909

                 948

Limerick

           9,851

         10,634

         11,850

           12,749

Longford

               783

               745

               939

             1,210

Louth

           3,689

           3,851

             3,942

             4,428

Mayo

           4,214

           4,484

           4,833

             4,941

Meath

           1,629

           1,536

           1,654

             1,904

Monaghan

               137

               150

               312

                 318

Offaly

           1,107

           1,167

           1,213

             1,192

Roscommon

               985

           1,139

           1,186

             1,288

Sligo

           2,366

           2,263

           2,305

             2,268

Tipperary North Riding

               328

               335

               204

                 216

Tipperary South Riding

           3,040

           3,330

           3,533

             3,624

Waterford

           6,197

           6,636

           7,017

             7,138

Westmeath

           2,783

           3,012

           3,451

             3,686

Wexford

           2,740

           2,987

           3,140

             3,163

Wicklow

           2,265

             2,258

           2,651

             2,659

Total Employment

        203,483

        215,506

        231,229

         245,096

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (177)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

177. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the need for targeting of public expenditure supports to recipient firms and-or elements of equity in the form of upside or clawback for the State built into the grant support as cited in the Central Bank Governor's pre-budget letter; if he plans to discuss such proposals with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26740/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Enterprise)

I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by businesses across all sectors of the economy. I am in continuous engagement with my Ministerial colleagues on the optimal mix of supports for businesses, so that we have the right supports at the right time for business.

As part of the July Stimulus package the Government provided a mix of supports, ranging from direct grants, to loans and equity support. The July Stimulus is a substantial financial package to stimulate our economy. It is worth more than €5 billion, with an additional €2 billion in loan guarantees. It is bigger in scale than most budgets and will be deployed at speed.

The July Stimulus is designed to help businesses to open, to help those that are already open to stay open, to get staff back to work and for those who cannot go back to their old jobs, there are new opportunities.

We have already provided billions of euro into the economy, through wage subsidies, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, cash for businesses, low cost loans and equity investment through Enterprise Ireland and commercial rates waivers. We know these actions have made a difference and that by supporting businesses now we are investing to build the resilience of our economy.

Repairing the damage wrought on the economy – and keeping the virus contained – is vital for the wellbeing of our people. The mix of measures in the July Stimulus includes:

- supporting viable businesses and jobs, including new hires, through the extended wage subsidy scheme, which run until the end of March, will be open to firms that don’t currently participate and open to workers like seasonal workers who were not previously included;

- giving companies extra assistance to reopen and stay open through an enhanced Restart grant available to more firms and more generous;

- providing more and cheaper loan finance;

- grant funding to help businesses and get ready for Brexit; and,

- exploiting opportunities in areas like Life Sciences and investing in decarbonisation and digitalisation with grant funding.

My Department’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) of up to €180 million is specifically aimed at firms operating in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors, with 10 or more employees, that are vulnerable but viable. The SEF is operated by Enterprise Ireland with amounts between €100,000 and €800,000 available to eligible companies who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The fund includes a 50% non-repayable grant element, up to a limit of €200,000, together with equity and other repayable forms of support.

We will continue to keep the mix of funding assistance to businesses under review to ensure that we have the right supports at the right time.

Departmental Staff

Ceisteanna (178)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

178. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of requests on hand from his Department and from State agencies under the aegis of his Department for approval to increase staff levels; the number of public and civil servants in total involved in these requests; the method by which decisions are made on the requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26474/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Enterprise)

My Department uses workforce planning processes to identify the critical resource needs required to deliver its business goals.  Workforce planning is a key tool in enabling my Department to forecast its current and future staffing needs (subject to the limits of the annual estimates process, the usual budgetary constraints and approvals by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform). The Workforce Plan aims to ensure a long-term, proactive and strategic plan by which my Department aims to have the right people, with the right levels of talent and skills, in each location and Division, doing the right thing at the right time. 

My Department operates in a rapidly changing environment and its structure must facilitate the flexibility to deploy resources to priority work, as the need arises.  As business needs arise, staff are allocated to support organisational priorities within my Department.  Overall staffing levels within Divisions are continually monitored and staff transfer in and out of Divisions as the workload demands.  Where skills gaps have been are identified, the HR Division reviews these requests on a quarterly basis and approves staff assignments on the basis of business cases made by Divisions.  One such iteration of this process has just been completed, so no requests are currently on hand for consideration from within the Department.   

The question of staffing levels in the State Agencies under the aegis of my Department is an operational matter, generally delegated to the Agencies themselves and I will ask the Agencies to respond directly to the Deputy on this matter.  However, I am aware of one request for additional staff resources, related to Brexit.

Inland Fisheries Ireland

Ceisteanna (179)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

179. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the legal status of bridges erected by Inland Fisheries Ireland on private land (details supplied). [27208/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The erection of infrastructure on private lands and access across such lands to carry out works by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) or by third parties funded by IFI, would, as a matter of IFI policy, be subject to landowner permission.  Such permissions may be subject to particular conditions and agreements based on the individual characteristics of the infrastructure and other issues.  

If the Deputy can identify the infrastructure and its location, I will arrange for IFI local management to update him on the query he raises.  

The issue of establishment of rights of way based on length of time is not a matter in which my Department or IFI has a function.

Electricity Generation

Ceisteanna (180)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

180. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to use wave technology to generate electricity off the coast and in Shannon estuary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26289/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Ireland has a sea area of 900,000 square kilometres, 10 times its landmass, and some of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world. The 2014 Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) sets out the Government’s policy for the sustainable development of our abundant offshore renewable energy resources.  The Strategic Environmental Assessment that underpinned the OREDP found that 4,500 MW of offshore wind and 1,500 MW of wave and tidal generation could be sustainably developed in Irish waters in the period to 2030. The OREDP can be found on my Department’s website (www.dccae.gov.ie). Work has commenced on updating the 2014 Plan. The Climate Action Plan includes a commitment to deliver at least 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030; the Programme for Government also commits to producing a plan setting out a path to achieve 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

In contrast to offshore wind, wave energy is still at the research and development stage globally. Notwithstanding the development of promising experimental devices, more research, development and trials are required to bring wave energy technology to commercial viability.

The Programme for Government commits to producing a plan setting out how we will take advantage of the massive potential of offshore energy on the Atlantic Coast. This plan will focus on utilising our existing energy and maritime infrastructure and will seek to create the right investment environment and support ocean energy research where necessary in the areas of floating wind, tidal, and wave power.

Horticulture Sector

Ceisteanna (181)

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

181. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications his plans for the future of horticulture peat extraction in view of the differences in extraction for this purpose as opposed to extraction for energy and the importance of this product to the mushroom industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26470/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Programme for Government makes a number of commitments in respect of the horticulture sector, in particular to review the supports available to the horticultural sector, encourage greater expansion and growth in the sector and to invest in the promotion of Irish horticultural products and enhance capital investment available to horticultural producers.

On 7 September 2020, the Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform published a report on the review of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry. The report was prepared by an inter-agency working group following on from the submissions received in response to the publication of an issues paper on the review. Arising from the report, the Minister of State intends to establish a working group to include representatives from relevant Government Departments and State Agencies, Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations and industry stakeholders under an independent chairperson to examine the issues which have been identified during the review. The report recommends that the working group consider investment in further research into the development, education and use of alternatives to peat moss and graduating the elimination of the use of peat moss in the horticulture industry over an agreed period of years.  

The High Court judgement in September 2019 to set-aside Regulations introduced to amend the existing consenting process means that planning permission and an Environmental Impact Assessment are required for large-scale peat extraction. In light of this decision, my Department is engaging with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, together with the Attorney General's Office to ensure the Ireland's legislation is in-line with all relevant EU legislation. 

Energy Efficiency

Ceisteanna (182)

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

182. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if he will request from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland the number of anaerobic digestion systems currently operational by county that received a grant under the support scheme for renewable heat; the number of energy units produced per county from this source; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26472/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

My Department does not collect the data requested in relation to anaerobic digestion in Ireland.  I understand the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a regulatory role in relation to anaerobic digesters when the operator is using animal-by-products as a feedstock. my Department understands that there are currently 12 facilities approved to operate using this material as a feed stock.

SEAI recently published a report on Renewable Energy in Ireland. While this report does not provide a breakdown by county, it does include useful information in regard to renewable biogas, produced from anaerobic digestion, in both heat and electricity. That report is available at the following link: https://www.seai.ie/publications/2020-Renewable-Energy-in-Ireland-Report.pdf.

Energy Efficiency

Ceisteanna (183)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

183. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if the guidelines which led to a cessation of works relating to the warmth and wellbeing scheme carried out by the SEAI in homes will be clarified; his views on whether the completion of works that have commenced and are now stalled is a priority in view of the approach of winter; if new guidance will be issued that will allow works to recommence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26491/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Warmth and Wellbeing pilot scheme aims to objectively measure and validate the health and wellbeing impacts of improving the living conditions of vulnerable people living in energy poverty with chronic respiratory conditions. The scheme is a collaboration between my Department and the Department of Health and is jointly administered by the Health Service Executive and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Since 2016 over 1,200 homes have received free upgrades to their homes, including attic and wall insulation, window and door replacement and heating system upgrades where needed. According to SEAI, the average cost per home completed to date is €22,800. This investment has significantly improved the warmth and comfort of the homes. Initial reports have indicated that the upgrades are also delivering benefits to the health and wellbeing of participants, including reports of needing fewer GP and hospital visits. An independent analysis is being carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in collaboration with the Health Service Executive.

Earlier this year, in line with public health and Government guidelines in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, all works under SEAI funded schemes were advised to pause for a period of time. The priority at all times was to minimise the risks for the homeowners and property occupants, contractors, their employees and the wider community. SEAI also advised contractors that any works that were incomplete should either be completed or postponed where possible and to ensure that the properties were left in a safe and habitable state before postponement.

It should be noted that this scheme is only available to households where a member of the household aged either 55 and over or 12 and under has a diagnosed chronic respiratory condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Further, the scheme is only available in specific Dublin areas.  SEAI has confirmed that works remain postponed on all of these homes as the occupants are extremely likely to be in the ‘very high risk’ group, as defined by the HSE. This is due to the intrusive nature of the works on the schemes, with multiple crew members in homes working in close proximity and often over long periods.

SEAI is mindful of the concerns that homeowners have with winter approaching and this is taken into account in its decision making as to how soon the scheme can restart. However, this must be balanced with the continuing risks of COVID-19 for applicants, contractors and the wider community. SEAI is considering a number of options that would allow work to recommence, and their associated risks. SEAI expects to complete this review by the end of this month.  The recently published 'Plan for Living with Covid-19' will be fully taken into account in these deliberations.  

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (184)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

184. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the sectors to be included in the eel fisheries compensation scheme; and if the scheme will include provisions for businesses producing artisan food such as eel smokehouses. [26494/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Fishing for eel in Ireland was by way of public licence issued annually and such licences do not confer rights on the holder. Consequently the issue of compensation does not arise. However, in consideration of the economic and social impacts of Ireland’s Eel Management Plan (EMP), reported by fishermen, the Government’s Eel Support Scheme fund was made available from 2018. The EMP, required under EU Regulation 1100/2007 was approved by the European Commission in 2009

The fund was made available to former eel fishermen, following liaison with the European Commission and the Revenue Commissioners. 

The scheme was available to all persons who were the holder of a State commercial public eel licence or an eel fishing permit in the 2007 season (the base year).  The scheme provided payments to former fishermen based on their track record in the 5 year period 2003-2007. 

All payments to qualifying applicants have been made and the fund is now closed.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (185)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

185. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if recent surveys have been carried out into the current eel population; and if he will consider the relicensing of eel fishing if there is evidence of a substantial population increase. [26495/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) undertakes ongoing research and monitoring of eel populations every year.  My Department has recently approved funding to facilitate continuation of this research. Ireland introduced its Eel Management Plan under EU Regulation 1100/2007 in 2009, following approval by the European Commission. In addition to annual research and in line with the requirements of the EU Regulation, Ireland’s Plan was reviewed in 2012, 2015 and 2018 and each review included a detailed scientific and research element. Further reviews will be undertaken as required by the Regulation.

The European eel is a panmithic stock – a single stock across the entire continent - which spawns in the Sargasso Sea before arriving into European rivers and lakes.  The distribution is naturally random between countries. 

Ireland follows the objective of the EU Regulation which aims to ensure that escapement of eels to the sea should be at 40% relative to “pristine conditions” - those pertaining in the early 1980s which was the reference years selected.

The latest advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is that the species remains critically endangered and that recruitment of juveniles in the Northern part of the Atlantic is currently at 1% relative to pristine conditions.  This advice states that anthropogenic (man-made) mortality should be kept at zero or as close to zero as possible.   

Given the very long maturation period of each generation of eels in Irish waters, the impact of the very low annual recruitment of juvenile eels for more than 25 years means that recovery of the stock will only be sustained over the long term by commitment to consistent and equally long term conservation measures.

National Broadband Plan

Ceisteanna (186, 187)

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

186. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the steps he is taking to accelerate the roll out of high speed broadband in rural Ireland in order to elevate the digital divide between urban areas and rural towns and villages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26532/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

187. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the way in which he plans to address the broadband challenges facing higher education students when accessing online material as part of their new course curriculum comprising in some case 50% remote learning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26533/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 and 187 together.

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) State led Intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) under a contract signed last November to roll out a high speed and future proofed broadband network within the Intervention Area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools. The NBP network will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset. This represents an increase from the 150Mbps committed to under the Contract. The deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high speed broadband within the next four years. As of 29 September, design work is complete or on-going in target townlands across 23 counties and steady progress is being made with over 96,000 premises surveyed to date. This activity is increasing week on week and by year end, NBI expects to have completed some 120,000 surveys.  This activity involves physically walking the routes and documenting images, notes and measurements of the poles, cables and underground ducts in each area. This is informing design solutions for provision of the fibre network. This detailed design is then used to initiate the ‘make ready’ project with eir for the area, where eir ensure any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose. It is also used to initiate works with the subcontractors deploying the actual fibre in the area. The laying of fibre should commence shortly with the first fibre to the home connections expected around December this year. Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. Some 155 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through 'service provider' contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly available sites and by the Department of Education and Skills for schools. Approximately 300 sites in rural areas are targeted for completion by the end of 2020 including 75 schools. My Department will work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP.  Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.  While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid 19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network. The extent of this impact is currently being assessed and NBI has committed to put in place measures to mitigate the impact in as far as possible.The Covid 19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of good reliable broadband to ensure that citizens across Ireland can avail of remote working, education and other essential online facilities. This is reflected in the commitments in the Programme for Government where delivery of the National Broadband Plan will be a key enabler to many of the policies envisaged particularly around increased levels of remote working. The Programme for Government has committed to seek to accelerate the roll out of the National Broadband Plan. In this regard, my Department continues to engage with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of this rollout to establish the possibility of bringing forward premises which are currently scheduled in years 6 and 7 of the current plan to an earlier date. Exploring the potential to accelerate the network rollout is being undertaken in parallel with the measures required to mitigate delays arising as a result of Covid-19.

In April 2020, all major telecommunications providers committed to a number of measures to help people stay in touch and work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, with one particular commitment relating to the zero-rating of various educational and health related resource platforms. Since then, a number of operators have implemented further supports for consumers, such as third level students, who require a high data usage package, by increasing data limits on many existing packages and by the introduction of new packages with very high, or unlimited data offerings. The market for mobile packages with very high, or unlimited data offerings, is becoming increasingly competitive and this is positive for all consumers.

Post Office Network

Ceisteanna (188, 199)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

188. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to a statement by a union (details supplied) that transactions in post offices are estimated to be down by 25% which heightens serious viability challenges facing the network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26556/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Donnelly

Ceist:

199. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if consideration has been given to supports for post offices nationwide whose transactions are down in some cases by 25%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27018/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 199 together.

I am aware of the concerns of the Irish Postmasters Union (IPU), which were raised in the course of a meeting with me on 17 September. The IPU has indicated that it will publish a report on the matter this week, which will then be considered by the Department.

An Post is a commercial State body with a mandate to deliver a postal delivery service and a viable post office network. Government remains fully committed to a sustainable post office network as a key component of the economic and social infrastructure in both rural and urban areas.  An Post's social value has been particularly evident during the current Covid crisis. 

In response to the structural challenges facing the postal sector generally and An Post, the company put in place a Strategic Plan for the medium-long term future of the company. The Plan covers the period 2017 – 2021. In order to implement the Plan, the cost of which was estimated to be in the region of €150m, the Minister for Finance provided a loan of €30m to the company in December 2017 to support the renewal of the post office network (€15m) and the continued fulfilment of a 5 day per week mails delivery service (€15m).

An Post is continuing to undergo vital transformation as part of the delivery of its strategic plan which has seen the company split into two distinct business units, An Post Mails and Parcels and An Post Retail.

An Post is transforming its retail network by delivering new products and new formats. This includes, among other things, diversifying and growing the financial services products it provides for individuals and SMEs to include loans, credit cards and more foreign exchange products; local banking in association with the major banks and a full range of State Savings products. Two new dedicated sub-brands, An Post Money and a new business-to-business brand, An Post Commerce, were launched. Investment by An Post of €50 million in the network is about getting communities to use the enhanced services in their local post office. 

Environmental Protection Agency

Ceisteanna (189)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

189. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications further to Parliamentary Question No. 497 of 3 October 2017, the status of the 15 outstanding recommendations of the review of the Environmental Protection Agency 2011; if he will provide an implementation report in respect of the action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26574/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

I refer to the replies to Questions Nos. 711 of 11 April 2017 and 497 of 3 October 2017. These replies noted that the 2011 Review of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the EPA overall has provided ‘considerable benefit for Ireland’s environment and for the health and well-being of its people.'

An Action Plan was developed by the EPA to consider and address the 58 recommendations contained in the 2011 Review. An Implementation Report, published in 2014, indicated that 43 of the recommendations were fully completed, with the remaining 15 “in progress”. The 2011 review and subsequent reports are available on the website of the EPA at www.epa.ie

The reply to PQ No. 497 of 3 October 2017 provided a summary report on the position in respect of the outstanding 15 recommendations. Of these, five are rolling in nature and will continue to be progressed in the normal course of events, while the remaining seven recommendations are not being implemented given the potential implications of their implementation on the effectiveness of the EPA to carry out its statutory functions, or where practical or technical issues have been identified.

In 2018, a further review of the EPA was commissioned (by the EPA itself) from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), using a framework developed by the OECD to assess and strengthen the organisational performance and governance of regulators. This review examined the EPA’s institutional and organisational set-up, including how it assesses its own performance, and compared the Agency’s governance arrangements against the Best Practice Principles and practices of other OECD Countries. The OECD report, 'Driving Performance at Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency,' was published in May 2020 and is available at https://www.oecd.org/gov/regulatory-policy/driving-performance-at-ireland-s-environmental-protection-agency-009a0785-en.htm

The OECD review concluded, inter alia, that “the EPA has established itself as a trusted and respected body for environmental and radiological protection that is recognised for its scientific integrity. It has been given responsibility for regulating an increasing number of areas on account of its reputation to deliver and it operates with a strong culture of independence. EPA data and reports are the reference for knowledge on Ireland’s environment and the EPA is seen as an authoritative voice on environmental issues. It networks effectively at the European level, where it has gained a reputation as an innovative, open organisation with many good practices to share.”

In addition, the Programme for Government commits to responding to the recommendations of the OECD report. I intend that the Department's ongoing oversight and performance delivery agreements with the EPA will provide appropriate opportunities to respond to the OECD review and to assess the EPA's implementation of the OECD recommendations.

In this context, I am satisfied that the OECD report represents an appropriate basis for taking forward any further consideration of the EPA’s capacity, performance and governance, and that no further action on foot of any outstanding recommendations from the 2011 Review is now required.

Fishing Licences

Ceisteanna (190)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Ceist:

190. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the criteria and process for authorising individual charter boats to fish for blue fin tuna in Irish fishing waters under the Control of Sea Angling methods for certain species of fish bye-law No. 981 of 2020.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26894/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The criteria and process for application for, and qualifying requirements to participate in, the Tuna Chart scientific data gathering programme 2020 are available on the web site of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). To assist the Deputy I have provided the relevant link below:   https://www.fisheriesireland.ie/Fisheries-Research/tuna-chart.html#faq.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (191)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Ceist:

191. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications the definition of the type of gear or equipment identified as being capable of use for trolling surface fishing lines for any species of fish in the opinion of Inland Fisheries Ireland under the Control of Sea Angling methods for certain species of fish bye-law No. 981 of 2020.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26896/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Bye-law 981 of 2020 sets out that any equipment capable, in the opinion of IFI, of use for trolling surface lines for any species of fish specified in the bye-law may not, without authorisation, be used or carried on board a vessel. The prohibition includes all equipment with this capability unless it is authorised.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (192)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Ceist:

192. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to open the tuna chart program to vessels and fishers currently not authorised under the program; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26897/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Tuna Chart Programme is a scientific data gathering initiative carried out under the rules of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).  Its purpose is the collection of high quality data with good temporal and spatial coverage, to contribute to ICCAT’s scientific knowledge and management of the species. The programme operates on a strictly catch, tag and release basis and the platform used for the data collection is sea angling vessels.  The programme is designed to avoid mortalities and I am happy to confirm that over 200 fish were tagged during 2019 and no mortalities occurred.   

The Programme is jointly overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, my Department, Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), the Marine Institute and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).  The programme facilitates scientific observers on board authorised vessels.

This Group agreed a pilot programme in 2019 in which 15 vessels were authorised to participate. The programme is also being operated in 2020 for which the number of authorised vessels increased to 23.  The programme is subject to ICCAT rules and consent. It is reviewed annually in the context of seeking continued ICCAT consent.  

An authorisation for any vessel applies only for the research period in the relevant year. A new application process is required for each year and there is no automatic roll-over for existing authorised vessels. Therefore any new application process will continue to be open to vessels not currently authorised and all applications are assessed against agreed qualifying criteria published in advance.  

 

Warmer Homes Scheme

Ceisteanna (193)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Ceist:

193. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications if extra resources will be put in place to clear the backlog of 18 to 24 months of the warmer home scheme (details supplied). [26937/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). To date over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme, leaving the occupants better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level. In 2019, €39.8 million was allocated to the Scheme with over 3,000 homes upgraded.  Budget 2020 announced a budget allocation for the scheme of €52.8 million.  This represents the biggest ever budget for the Warmer Homes Scheme. Although the budget for the scheme has been significantly increased in recent times, the current very high level of demand does directly impact waiting times. Prior to COVID-19 disruptions, the waiting time on the Warmer Homes Scheme, from application to completion of works, was between 18 and 24 months. In line with Government COVID-19 guidelines, the scheme was fully paused between March and June.  Works have recommenced for homes that can be categorised as lower risk, subject to homeowner consent, though some restrictions continue to apply. COVID-19 has therefore negatively impacted waiting times. SEAI has further advised that average waiting times should only ever be used as a general guide and waiting times may vary, based on the demand for the scheme at the time of application. SEAI are continuing to work through applications on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Climate Action Plan includes a commitment to review ways to improve how current energy poverty schemes target those most in need, including how to reduce waiting times. Recommendations in relation to the implementation of changes to the scheme will be finalised shortly.

The July Stimulus commits to increasing the SEAI budget by €100 million in 2021. This additional funding will be focused on community retrofit schemes, retrofit schemes supporting those in energy poverty as well as other initiatives to support the achievement of our retrofit targets.  The funding supported the first call for projects under the new National Homes Retrofit Scheme which was launched last week (25 September).  This scheme is suitable for one-stop-shops, residential service providers, employers, financial institutions, Approved Housing Bodies and local authorities.  Details are available at: www.seai.ie.      

Additional detail on other new and expanded schemes as well as an increased allocation for the Warmer Homes Scheme will be announced in the coming weeks. The additional funding will enable an increased level of activity which will positively impact the waiting list.

Wind Energy Generation

Ceisteanna (194)

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

194. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to provide grants or financial assistance to persons erecting windfarms with a view to generating energy for the national grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26968/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, has been established to support delivery of Ireland's 70% renewable electricity target by 2020.

The RESS is a competitive auction-based scheme which invites renewable electricity generation projects, including wind farms, to bid for capacity and receive a guaranteed price for the electricity they generate for up to 16.5 years. The RESS also includes broader policy objectives such as technology diversification and support for community ownership and participation. The results of the first RESS auction were published on 10 September 2020. 13 wind farm projects were successful in the auction along with 62 solar energy projects and 7 community owned projects.

Other financial supports are available for wind projects. These include tax based incentives for the development of renewable technologies such as the Accelerated Capital Allowances Scheme and the Employment and Investment Incentive.

As part of delivering the RESS project, and in consultation with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, my officials are exploring a variety of capacity building supports, including grants for community-led projects such as wind and solar farms.